Jetlag and Reverse Culture Shock: Back in the U.S.A.

Travelling the Silicon RoadWell, it’s been a week since I’ve returned to the United States from my month in China, and I finally seem to be back on a Western hemisphere rhythm. For several days following my return home to West Virginia, after a few days in the office on the left coast, I could not stay up past 8 p.m. I would try and try to stay awake, but to no avail, promptly waking up 3:15 a.m. or so.

But that’s the rather mundane aspect of my experience; after a month in China some of the things that I would normally take for granted seem strange. Like being in a crowd of people and understanding what everyone is saying. Or not being petrified when I’m driving. After a month of planes, trains and taxis, hell, it feels weird just to drive period.

And I think I’ve been ruined for Western food. I don’t know whether I just got used to eating real Chinese food frequently, or my stomach shrunk, or my intestinal flora and fauna adapted so much to the East that it doesn’t recognize the food of the West. But everything I ingest now seems to hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s like being in a constant carbohydrate coma and in any event — for the umpteenth time, I know, I know — I do miss the food in Chengdu.

But then I’ve traveled abroad for a month at a time before, so I expected a bit of reverse culture shock. But that last time was a month spent in Europe, as opposed to Asia, so it feels magnified, this time. But I don’t think one can spend a month abroad anywhere, and not feel at least a little strange upon coming home. I’m not the same person now that I was when I flew to Beijing on Oct. 8 (it seems a lot longer than 5 weeks ago), and home doesn’t seem quite the same, either. The world is a little smaller, and my perspective is just a bit broader, I suppose. I would hope so, anyway.

It was certainly very strange to go from the hubbub of Chinese cities, finishing up the trip with a weekend in Hong Kong (thank God I never made my way to Hong Kong in my 20s; I would have ended up dissolute and destitute by now, or worse, without a doubt), only to spend two days in San Jose then back home to Appalachia. I live outside a small town of about 3,000 in southern West Virginia, deep in the Appalachian mountains, and now that the whitewater rafting season is over for the year, it’s pretty quiet; in fact most of my local friends are connected with the whitewater tourist industry and they’ve all left until next year.

It’s quite the 180-degree contrast to China, and a bit of a relief in some ways. I was ready for some solitude after the close-knit quarters and seething masses of humanity that are Chinese cities, and it’s nice to breathe air that I can’t see, and smells like … well … smells like air.

But on the other hand, I confess that on the plane ride home from my first trip in China, I was already figuring out when I could take my next trip to China. As I mentioned before, the only other country I/ve traveled to that has affected me thusly was Ireland.

I encountered a saying about China while conducting background research prior to the trip; I’ve tried over the ensuing six weeks to track down the original quote, to no avail. But it goes something like this: travel to China for a week, and you’ll be able to write a book. Travel to China for a month, and you’ll be able to write an article. Travel to China for a year, and you won’t want to write anything at all.

I’ve pondered the meaning of that; many people assume it is a reference to the complexity of Chinese culture; the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, as you begin to grasp the realities and complexities of a culture that is thousands of years old. I think to a certain extent that is indeed true.

But for me, personally, I took it to mean that the more time one spent in China, the more one would become enamored of the culture — the more one became absorbed in China, the more one came to know it, the less one would feel compelled to write about it and go home.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I want to go native; but I certainly have begun to understand China’s allure — beyond its burgeoning free market.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaBut now the time has come, now that I’ve returned, to try and address the original questions: is China for real? Does it live up to the hype it receives in the semiconductor industry in the West? And if so, is it a threat? Or will it be in the future.

Well, I’ll be attempting to put the answers to those questions in more detail in the coming weeks here on the Silicon Road, but in a word: Yes, yes, yes/no and perhaps, respectively. But that’s enough for now.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Jeff

Original Comments

at 11/22/2005 12:31:00 PM, Brian said:

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and thanks for the many informative and entertaining articles. Yes, American food is heavy, in fact I bet you will even feel slower. Perhaps the fast moving Chinese culture is partly contributed to the food. Wait till you eat “Americanized” Chinese food, its just not; well, China, Chinese food.

at 11/22/2005 1:32:48 PM, Dr. Hayao Nakahara said:

I myself just came home after seven weeks in China from Beijing to Shanghai, then to Guangzhou and finally to Kunming (Yunang Province). I do this trip a few times a year and every time I come home to New York, I have jetlag of various severity. This time, when I returned home on November 9, it took me one week before my body recovered “NY bio-rythm”. I hate to come home when I think about my jetlag, but when it is over, I am so glad to be home, and then, I start thinking when I go back to China. I completely agree your sentiment. H. Nakahara New York nakanti@yahoo.com

at 11/22/2005 5:13:05 PM, Eric Fremd said:

Your blog has brought me back to China in my mind…I have absolutely enjoyed the experience of getting back to China by reading this series. This year was my first trip to China- My very first trip I stayed 1 month working at our factory and training in Shenzhen…I was able again to return twice more for a 2.5 week business trip then a quick 10 day trip visiting my new Chinese girl friend…I am looking forward to returning next month…Hopefully I will bring a little piece of China back with me next year…Thanks again for a great series! Sincerely, Eric Fremd etfremd@yahoo.com

at 11/23/2005 7:58:20 AM, Ron Carson said:

Thanks Jeff for this interesting series. Having had the pleasure of traveling to Hong Kong and China about a half-dozen times over the last 3 years I had a yearning to make plans for my next visit. I have only visited “Westernized China” and look forward to visiting more rural areas on a future trip. Thanks again for the journey.

at 11/23/2005 9:52:43 AM, Ralph Kenton said:

Jeff, thanks for your series of excellent articles on China. They were most useful in preparing for my lectures and business trip, which concluded just yesterday. Although I have no jet lag, it was great to once again consume some American ice cream, a commodity that was very scarce in Shanghai!

Eating there was quite an adventure, especially when pondering delicacies such as “Duck Lower Jaw with Secret Sauce” or “Stewed Beef Fat with Fungus” One observation: The buildings and facilities were definitely world class, although many of their basic service processes still offered room for improvement, especially when it comes to speed, comfort and efficiency. It was nevertheless a great experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to my next trip there.

at 11/28/2005 6:00:46 PM, Henry Sommers said:

Interesting stuff, but what does it really mean? Their education is similar, their dedication more focused,their costs way below ours and so what do we need to fear? Is the political or economic threat real? do we face an unknown force? Are we suckered into a sales hype that is not all what it appears.

Should we stay home and look at our own resources or must we give technology and jobs away so freely?

No McDonalds Please; I’ll Have the Fish Head Hotpot

Travelling the Silicon RoadCHENGDU, China — I never would have thought something with a fish head floating in it could taste so good, but more on that later.

I want to make an observation about something that always bugs me when I travel abroad. Why do hotel employees always want to send you to some place that’s foreign friendly? Even when you tell them that’s not what you want.

I suppose there is some general truism to be gleaned from this observation, but I’m not sure what it is. Surely I’m not that different from most business travelers?

Tonight my intrepid interpreter and I returned from dinner to the hotel, but I decided the evening couldn’t be done yet. It is Friday night, I’m in a foreign city — I’m not going to go to bed early. So we asked a bellhop to direct us to a good nearby local bar. He disappeared behind the concierge desk only to return and apologize that there were no bars nearby, and then proceeded to give me a card from some Irish bar, making it a point to say that it was popular with laowai, expats, etc., and that it was only a short cab ride, blah blah blah.

I promptly declared “Rubbish!” and strolled out into the night (that was probably the bottle of Great Wall cabernet we had with dinner talking), Zhike in tow. This is a business class hotel — people on expense accounts are constantly running in and out — smack in the middle of a city of 4.1 million people; there was bound to be a local pub somewhere nearby, I reasoned.

Sure enough, I promptly spotted two within a stone’s throw of the hotel. Had the bellhop never actually set foot outside the Sheraton? Why does this always happen in nicer hotels when traveling abroad?

Sure, I could understand if I moved to a foreign land permanently, I’d want to have a bit of home now and then, and go to the American restaurant or the Irish pub. And it was fun in Shanghai to introduce Zhike to all sorts of goofy Western food and drink.

But when I’m visiting a foreign place and only have a short time, I don’t want someplace familiar. If wanted to experience familiar, I’d stay at home. If I travel to Chengdu, I want to experience what Chengdu people experience. That’s the fun of traveling, experiencing the unfamiliar.

The only thing I can conclude is that many business travelers want what’s familiar; I just don’t understand why. Seems to me if you are there on business, it’s even more important to understand the local culture. Incidentally, I’ve found that when I’ve traveled on my own abroad and stayed in cheap hotels, you seem to get directed to cheap local places, rather than tourist/businessmen-on-expense-account traps.

Anyway, I just had to get that off my chest. After three weeks of this, it gets a bit frustrating at times. It’s hard to explain through an interpreter that no, you don’t want to go to the tourist place. You don’t want to go to the place that caters to foreigners. You don’t want to go to a club with the flashy neon lights, overpriced, water-downed drinks and bad, pop music that was old ten years ago. You want to go where the locals go. …

Anyway, Onto the Fish Heads

We couldn’t locate The Little Chili Pepper referenced in the previous blog entry. Apparently it’s so small and so local that most of the locals haven’t heard of it, although one person we stopped on that he knew of the place, but failed to prove it with adequate directions. If the folks at Agilent-Qianfeng read this, please call me or e-mail me with proper directions

So we ended up at a restaurant called Tan Yu Tou, a chain of popular Sichuan restaurants in China that started out here in Chengdu. It’s a “huoguo” place, or hotpot. Translated, the restaurant’s name refers to the surname of the person that started the place, Tan, and “yu tou,” which means fish head.

I told Zhike, my interpreter, upon hearing this — after we had left the restaurant — that he had no idea how amused it made me to dine at a restaurant essentially called Tan’s Fish Heads. And that’s true; I’m sure he really did have no idea. Cultural differences. …

But I digress. Essentially hotpot cooking is kind of like fondue; you dip meat and veggies and whatnot into big pots filled with heated, spicy oil; and I do mean lip numbing, tongue-searing spicy. It was one of the hottest, flavorful dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating. I instructed Zhike to tell our waitress to make sure that we did not get the laowai-friendly version; I was not disappointed — poor Zhike even complained at one point, albeit with a smile on his face as he wiped his forehead, that it was too spicy.

I assured him there is no such state of being. It wasn’t as good as yu xiang rou si, the Food of the Gods, but almost. Even now, my stomach feels warm. Should have some interesting dreams when I finally go to sleep tonight.

Oh, almost forgot the fish heads. In addition to all manner of spices, fish heads and miscellaneous parts are added to the hotpot for flavor, and of course, you can eat some of the fish. Like I said at the beginning, being a Westerner, I never would have guessed that a dish with half a fish head floating in it would taste so yummy.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaThe rest of the evening, I’ve had that Fish Heads song from the early 1980s in my head. You 30-somethings like me, members of the inaugural MTV generation, know what I’m talking about. Google “Barnes and Barnes,” like I did just now, and take a trip down Nostalgic Lane. And now I know what the line that states “floating in the soup” is about.

Thank you and good night.

Jeff

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Dashed on the Hot Rocks of the Sichuan Siren

Travelling the Silicon RoadCHENGDU, China — Alas, I have been forever ruined for Chinese food in the United States. It will never be the same; you can’t go home again.

I am doomed.

Like the mythical Argonauts I have heard the culinary Siren’s song that is Sichuan cooking, but unlike them I have no Orpheus to provide even better tasting food, and no Odysseus to plug my nose to keep it from smelling its intoxicating, peppery aroma or my mouth to keep it from tasting its fiery, eye-watering, forehead sweating pleasures.

I’m sure that soon after I return to the United States, I will soon be reduced to a skulking, emaciated shell of a human being, something out of a Tolkienesque nightmare, wandering from bland U.S. restaurant to bland U.S. restaurant, each proclaiming to be more authentically Sichuan than the last. With each one my hopes will be raised, only to be dashed on the Sichuan Siren’s rocks as the first mundane morsel passes my thin, fish-like lips. I will throw my chopsticks down in disgust, the only heat to be felt in my yearning mouth will be that of bitter bile.

I will crawl out of each restaurant on all fours, the few strands of dank hair still clinging to my otherwise bald scalp hanging into my eyes, as I mutter and hiss in the back of my throat about “my Precious … We misses it, we does … we misses Chendgdu, gollum!”

I Am Ruined; This is My Fate

Melodramatic, yes? Man, I can pour on the BS when I get going, huh? A journalist is nothing if not a professional bull manure slinger.

I suppose my situation is not as bad as Tolkien’s Gollum. But last night I finally got to Chengdu, my third to last stop on the Silicon Road — no thanks to Air China or the security personnel at Xiamen’s airport — and today, I tasted culinary nirvana. My taste buds reached a transcendental state; my stomach is gurgling contentedly, even as I type this.

For today I had my first Sichuan cooking in Chengdu, a bustling city of 4.1 million souls — damn lucky ones — near the center of Sichuan province, which is itself the geographical heart of China.

The Chinese have a saying about Sichuan, or so my Lonely Planet guidebook tells me (I have yet to ask my new Chinese friends about this); translated into English it says “Never visit Sichuan when you are young.” The implication is that you won’t want to leave.

Now I know why.

For those among the culinary clueless — and how I pity you — Sichuan cuisine is famous around the globe, and in here in China it is famous in a country filled with famous cuisine, a country that takes its cuisine very serious. Remember, this is a culture with the polite, throw-way greeting consisting not of the West’s “hi-how-are-you?” but “have-you-eaten-today?”

Now I should explain that I’m a bit of a masochist. I love hot, spicy food. I’ve yet to encounter much that is too spicy or too hot for me. It’s not hot unless I can’t feel my lips, my forehead is sweating, my tongue is burning and I’m getting the hick-ups. If these criteria are met, it’s hot and I’m in food heaven. Give me more; thank you mistress may I have another?

My father started me on this trend back when I was 12, introducing me to the delights of jalapenos on pizza. It’s been a hot downhill ride for me ever since. Luckily, I seem to have an iron-clad digestive track; peppers never require me to down a Peptobismal chaser.

So naturally, I’ve been a big fan of Sichuan-style Chinese restaurants back in the U.S. since I was a teenager; Sichuan cooking involves a lot of spicy, peppery stuff. So while I’ve been dining all sorts of crazy — to a Westerner — stuff here in China, donkey, duck’s tongue, unidentified boiled vegetables and whatnot — I’ve been waiting to get here.

Unfortunately, we got in late last night, and there wasn’t much open, so we had to settle for one of the restaurants in our business-class hotel; I didn’t much mind though, figuring that, well, the hotel is in Chengdu, so the food must be pretty good by default. Of course the fates decided to screw with me; out of all the hotel food I’ve eaten this trip, this hotel has the most bland food. And I don’t know how you can make congee — the rice soup that is a breakfast staple for many in China — any blander than it already is, but this placed manages to do it.

Fortunately, while I was working away this morning, my faithful interpreter, Zhike (aka Tony) was out researching restaurants in Chengdu, as he was as excited as I was about the gastrointestinal delights to be discovered here.

So for lunch today, we went to a place called Bian Shi Cai Gen Xiang … and my lips tingled … my nose ran … in a word, exquisite. The mapo tofu was exquisite, the best I’ve ever had (it’s a staple for me at Chinese restaurants back home), and I discovered a new dish, well several actually, but the best by far was “yu xiang rou si.” According to Zhike this was just your standard, everyday Sichuan dish, for me, it was the food of the Gods.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaCome to think of it, I don’t know what was in it exactly, and I don’t really care — it could be ground up leprechaun toe nails for all I care — if I could boil yu xiang rou si in a spoon and shoot it into a vein I would. It was that good; I’m an addict looking for my next fix.

I can’t wait for the next four days in Chengdu. Or the next 40 years — I remain, dear Gentle Reader, yours in culinary addiction,

Jeff

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 10/27/2005 2:22:53 PM, Lloyd Jhanson said:

I haven’t been to Chengdu, I was in Shenzhen a couple of years ago, I did try some snake…It was very good…”tastes like chicken”…I know you can get snake here in the States but as you’ve said everything is different there. I don’t know what kind of snake it was, my hosts said it wasn’t cobra…not expensive enough…something about the Chinese equivalent of workman’s comp, I think… Anyway, if you get the chance, try the snake.

at 10/27/2005 4:01:18 PM, Ray said:

Loved your blog. I can relate to your article. My dear Chinese wife couldn’t imagine to live anywhere else in the US other than the San Francisco bay area, because “there is no other good Chinese food in the U.S. Maybe in LA, but nothing back east.” Happy eating.

at 11/3/2005 10:38:13 PM, Jeff Chappell said:

I’ve had rattle snake back in the states … chewy, like you would expect. And while the food here in Shenzhen is good, as it is all over China, I miss Chengdu already. Or at least my palate does … so much so that I had to go to a Sichuan restaurant here in Shenzhen. Fresh seafood is great and all, but mapo tofu and yu xiang rou si … my mouth mourns the fact that in a few days I’ll be back in the States.

The Old Journalist and the Sea

Travelling the Silicon RoadXIAMEN, China — One thing always happens to me on every extensive trip — and sometimes the quick ones — to places I haven’t been before: I find some spot to which I’m instantly ready to move.

On this month-long trip, that moment, the first one, anyway, came in Xiamen.

Now if there is one thing I’ve learned about traveling and moving relatively frequently, being a somewhat restless soul, it’s that falling in love with people and places share the same pitfalls — and I’ve been known to fall at the drop of a hat. Just because you fall in love with a person/place initially, the relationship may not have what it takes to keep you happy in the long term. Just because you had fun on vacation, or the place you arrive at/person you meet is unexpectedly charming and beautiful, doesn’t mean you will like living there/with them.

Sedona, Ariz., taught me that, in more ways that one. But that’s another two or three stories for some other time.

Xiamen, in its own way, is just as Chinese as the other cities I’ve been to so far: Beijing, Shenyang and Shanghai. It has an important place in Chinese history, plays a current role in its nascent technology industry, has a thriving university culture, and was a key part of its Western colonial era. Like seemingly every other urban area in China, there is a ridiculous amount of construction, and traffic scares the living bejesus out of me.

And yet Xiamen is something different. It’s China, yes, but it certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype.

I could say that about the other three cities I’ve been too in China, of course. But Xiamen really is not what Westerners frequently associate with China, at least not the ones I know, and as such, is a pleasant surprise. This coastal island city that sits across from Taiwan, amidst other surrounding islands, at first glance reminds one of either Southern California or South Florida, or perhaps the Gulf Coast of the United States.

There are the palm trees and the sand, the balmy near-tropical climate (welcome after Shenyang’s chilly autumn days), and clean air (welcome after Beijing’s and Shanghai’s dreadful smog). And then there are the fishing boats and seaside shops — not only can you pick your own lobster here, but your own crab, fish, shrimp and sea life that I couldn’t begin to identify. Then there are all manner of places designed to separate cash from tourists, from upscale, trendy clothiers to vendors of cheap flashy trinkets, and all of them seemingly inundated with trendy, well-dressed hipster kids.

And my interpreter and I agree; Xiamen girls seem to be the prettiest of our travels so far in China. All afternoon I kept singing that annoying Beach Boys tune in my head, only I would change the words to “Wish they all could be Xiamen, China girls … ”

The Great American Novel Awaits on Gulangyu Islet

But really I think Xiamen is more akin to the south of France, perhaps, or somewhere else on the Mediterranean, given the European architecture scattered throughout the city, particularly the closer one gets to the water.

In fact, there is a neighboring island, Gulangyu Islet, that seems more akin to some South Pacific volcanic island, or perhaps the Caribbean, rather than coastal mainland China; it’s narrow, windy streets (cars are apparently not allowed and certainly not needed) and historical architecture reflect the many European powers that made attempts to colonize this port city in the past — some successful, some not.

And in temperament, Xiamen definitely seems to be more laid back; the pace of life is slower here. Rush hour traffic is nothing like Shanghai or Beijing, but then it’s a small Chinese city, if indeed it can be said there is such a thing, with only 1.24 million people here.

Particularly on Gulangyu Islet, life is lived at a leisurely, island pace.

Even though the sea to the south is clogged with cargo and tanker traffic — there is an oil refinery on a nearby island — on Gulangyu, musicians play traditional instruments in public squares, their instrument cases open for the yuan of appreciative passersby. Since there are no automobiles here, everything from garbage to construction supplies to the day’s catch is hauled in big wheelbarrows around the island. Tourists stroll the narrow boulevards, and the shop keepers hawk their wares, and the three island policemen tool around in electric carts.

Everywhere you look is colonial-era architecture, some of it well maintained, others crumbling with age. These buildings are interspersed with new ones that sometimes mesh well with the old neighborhoods around them, such as the Xiamen University college dedicated to the arts, and some new apartment buildings that hopelessly clash with their older and more dignified neighbors.

Stairs climb through thickets of bamboo and around ancient trees, winding through hillside neighborhoods that must surely once have housed colonial administrators. From some vantage points on the island you can see the skyscrapers of Xiamen, about half a kilometer from Gulangyu. And yet when you are on this little islet they might as well be miles and years away — you can just smell the history here, mingled with the odors of cooking seafood, sea breezes and the fragrance of tropical fauna.

It is here that I could see setting down for awhile, enjoying a slow-paced, island lifestyle. The crumbling old European buildings call to a hopeless romantic like myself; it would be easy on Gulangyu to pick up where Hemingway left off, typing away in some dusty old room, while ocean sea breezes flutter the curtains at the open window, where the cries of the island’s elementary school children can be heard, mingled with the occasional foghorn.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaPerhaps someday my travels will bring me back to Gulangyu; perhaps I will take a job as a correspondent in China, and I’ll be able to settle here for awhile, until I grow restless once more.

But in the meantime, alas, I’m ensconced on the sixth floor of the generic, hygienic Crowne Plaza hotel, and tomorrow I will not be contemplating the themes of man vs. man or man and nature for a forthcoming novel, but meeting with members of China’s optoelectronics industry.

What the hell, I never really liked Hemingway anyway.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 10/25/2005 7:18:07 AM, Paul said:

Something for you to contemplate as you admire the old houses on Gulangyu; Until the Cultural Revolution most of those beautiful old builds were single family homes. Sadly, during the revolution they were carved up into 3 meter square family apartments. In this case the beauty truly is only skin deep, as the insides of these building now are mostly a mess.

at 10/25/2005 1:25:23 PM, Bob said: And just when I was looking for the idyllic place to settle down. Perhaps I’ll have to go and see but one day the missiles flying over-head to and fro Taiwan might upset this tranquil picture you paint.

at 10/25/2005 10:45:23 PM, Jeff Chappell said:

Despite the public political bluster and military bravado, I honestly think the Chinese are much too practical to get into an armed conflict with Taiwan; the island is quickly becoming an economic ally, and Chinese government officials look at its rapid development as a model for China. In fact, the recently retired leader of the Kuomintang government in Taiwan was just here in China on a state visit — he was touring the Forbidden City in Shenyang at the same time we were, a week before last.

at 10/25/2005 10:51:10 PM, Jeff Chappell said:

As for what happened to the houses on Gulangyu during the Cultural Revolution, yes, it is indeed a shame. But then it is an important aspect of history, if not a happy one. And it’s no justification, but “progress” is often the fate of many old and beautiful buildings everywhere, not just China; such is life. But then the real attraction for me to this islet is its geography, climate and its people and their culture — and the seafood — not the buildings.

at 10/26/2005 11:21:17 AM, Goose Hosage said: Jeff, road warriors such as yourself need to get more sleep. When you find yourself rambling with multiple paragraphs regarding a topic, which in fact should have been covered in a few sentences, readers really begin to wonder. “Wildly Inarticulate Ponderinngs of The Jet Lagged” perhaps would have been a better title.

at 10/27/2005 4:24:40 AM, Jeff Chappell said: LOL, Goose, dude … it’s a blog, not my entry for this year’s Pulitzer. Get over it. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: folks, what’s with the dis’n me, as the kids say, and not putting your real name to it? C’mon … if I’m not afraid to put my raw and un-copyedited emotional ponderings out there for all the world to see, at least have the decency to use your real name. I do, after all. And it’s not like I’m going to hunt you down or anything. I’ll just laugh and say at least I can spell “pondering.” Of course, if your name really is Goose Hosage, I look pretty stupid right about now. 😉

at 10/29/2005 11:57:28 PM, fred in seattle said:

everyone is a critic…too bad most dont have anything positive to say. Jeff, Thank you for your insight into a city I love. Maybe others with narrow views will stay at home and watch the latest reality show with their microwave dinners as we travel the world…zaijian

at 10/30/2005 11:02:20 PM, Jon said: Hi. I’m an American who has been living in Xiamen for three years and am now married with a 2 year old. This is a great place to live! And my wife and I are going to set up tours and give relocation help to people who want to come here. My life has progressed in every aspect in the 3 years here on this comfortable island in China than the last 30 years in the States. Welcome to Xiamen! jon@jonruby.com

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHANGHAI — The best laid plans sometimes get shot to hell when you cross the international dateline.

All of China is one time zone: Beijing time. Most of the people I’ve asked here that are Chinese think it’s just fine that way. The people out west in China simply keep later office hours, so ultimately it’s just like the United States or Europe in that respect, you just never have to reset your watch.

I’m beginning to think that’s a good idea, not futzing around with time zones. Which brings me to the latest Jeff’s China Travel Tip of the Day:

When you get here, and you’re traveling on business, and you have a month’s worth of appointments set up in Outlook, DON’T SET YOUR LAPTOP’S CLOCK TO LOCAL TIME!

See, of course, I did this, because apparently I have an anal retentive nerd streak that chose to express itself at an inopportune time. I figured I was here for a whole month, so why not. And of course all my appointments got screwed up. Suddenly all my appointments were taking place at 2 in the morning and whatnot. Probably Bill Gates’ fault somehow.

But do I do the simple fix? Of course not. Like a moron I went through and manually fixed them all, rather than just set my laptop back to my normal U.S. time zone. It was tricky business, because I had crossed the international dateline, so some of my appointments were not only at the wrong time, but on the wrong day.

So consider yourself warned. Seems I didn’t get at least one appointment changed to the correct day. I sat down earlier this evening to prepare for said meeting tomorrow, and was scrolling through the related e-mail correspondence, when I spied the date of Oct. 19th. I looked at my watch, realizing already that today was the 19th, and that the meeting had been scheduled for this afternoon.

Tony the Interpreter came along to my hotel room around about this time, and consequently got to learn some new English words, phrases and expressions, of the colorful colloquial variety, and almost got to witness a Dell Latitude get ejected from a 13th floor hotel room. Yes, the 13th floor; 13 isn’t an unlucky number in China — well not for the Chinese, anyway. Seems it is still in play for us laowai.

Which brings me to my public apology to one Ng Chong Meng, the managing director of STATS ChipPAC Shanghai. Mr. Ng, I apologize to you wholeheartedly; please forgive my ineptitude in understanding the intricacies of international time zones and Microsoft XP’s clock function.

Weird Food Update

The past two days I’ve taken advantage of Shanghai’s international flavor and numerous tourist traps to subject Tony the Interpreter to more strange Western food: last night was French, tonight was German. Unfortunately, the French restaurant was about as French as I am, and the German restaurant little better in terms of authenticity — but then this is Asia, after all. At least the alcohol at each restaurant was genuine.

Escargot (that’s snails to you uncultured boors and Asian readers out there) didn’t particularly impress him one way or the other; but then sea invertebrates barbecued on a stick are sold by the ton by street vendors here, so I guess land invertebrates naturally wouldn’t be a big deal. He was more intrigued by the idea that snails were a staple of the French diet; I explained to him that it was delicacy, not everyday food.

He also wanted to know why the French ate snails in the first place — which struck me as rather incredibly ironic — and I suggested that it was more of an excuse to eat a lot of butter and garlic, as opposed to any real desire to eat snails. What did prompt the first French chef sometime way back in antiquity to pick up a snail and exclaim “Sacre bleu! Mais oui!” and fire up the sauté pan?

Anyway, German food was a little more interesting to Tony; ghoulash soup tasted a little like certain Chinese dishes, apparently. And the various kinds of German sausage, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut seemed to go over O.K. Much better than that weird pizza stuff with that exotic cheese, he pointed out.

But the middle of the dinner was definitely a low point for him; things went downhill with the arrival of mixed green salads. Tony, being Chinese, doesn’t really understand raw vegetables outside of tomatoes and cucumbers, and he flat out turned up his nose at French dressing. Maybe I shouldn’t have ordered French dressing in a German restaurant.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaI think he would have skipped the salad all together, but I badgered him with “C’mon, you said you wanted to experience Western food! Besides, I ate squid on a stick! I ate dog, for chrissakes! Donkey! I’ve eaten Chinese food everyday since I’ve been here, you can choke down a salad.”

I’m a cruel taskmaster. I think I was feeling crabby about blowing my appointment with STATS-ChipPAC. Guess I owe Tony an apology too.

I remain your intrepid reporter on the Silicon Road,

Jeff

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 10/19/2005 12:32:23 PM, Richard H. McKee said:

Jeff, You must try the appetizer of cold, marinaded duck’s feet. Likewise, try the Tea-leaf smoked DUCK. There are as many variations on roast duck as there are restaurants in China, but the tea leaves impart a flavor like nothing else- WONDERFUL! -Cheers!

at 10/19/2005 1:32:18 PM, Walter Bordett said:

Maybe your Chinese friend is just being prudent. Chinese agricultural practices traditionally involve human waste spread on fields for fertilizer. Usually works OK if all produce is well cooked. Raw salad may not be wise. You may not want to drink the water unless its boiled first. That makes ice a no no. Big cities may be safer, but you never know….